Twenty minutes later, we had herded the errant cows into a field and were welcoming the first guests. Lily was sitting on the lawn, looking delectable in a white Broderie Anglaise smock dress. Jasper's parents were the first to arrive, with Maud Stanford-Caldbeck, a delightful old aristocrat, who was great friends with Jasper's late maternal Grand Mother.
As teenagers, they rode to hounds together three times a week, their passion for Hunting equalled only by their love of partying. They were an illustrious duo, renowned for their stamina, both on and off horse back. They would Hunt until dark, and hack ten miles home to be welcomed by a hot bath, drawn by a faithful servant. Having reclined in the fragrant waters for at least an hour, and revived their weary limbs with several large whiskys , they would appear at the top of the sweeping staircase, encased in fabulous dresses and shimmering with jewels like birds of Paradise, before making their elegant descent to the drawing room for cocktails at seven.
The Chauffeur would duly despatch them to their destination, where their arrival would prompt a ripple of excitement amongst the guests. No party was complete without them.
Maud was a formidable card player. At one party, she challenged the Host (the local Master Of Fox Hounds) to a game of Poker. Bewitched by her dazzling beauty he accepted. During the course of a hand, emboldened by copious quantities of Brandy, he bet his finest Hunter, and lost.
Legend has it that Maud promptly kissed him on his blanching cheeks , thanked him for a splendid party and rode the horse home in the misty dawn.
Jasper's Grand Mother has long since died, but Maud still follows the Hounds in her car twice a week without fail, gloriously unimpeded by her failing eyesight and rapidly encroaching senility.
She tottered into the Garden, resplendent in diaphanous pink chiffon and engulfed me in a cloud of Chanel No 5.
"Hello darling girl! Happy Birthday!" she trilled, patting my hectic cheeks.
"Hello Justin!" she called to Jasper, waving at him with a girlish smile.
"Whose is that child?" she asked, peering at Lily over the rims of her spectacles.
"That's Lily. She's our daughter." said Jasper
"Good Lord! Is she really? Well aren't you dark horses!" she chuckled, settling down in a wicker chair.
Soon, the garden was full of Mummies and toddlers. Lily was enchanted to be surrounded by so many little people, and sat in the middle of the festivities clapping delightedly and chortling with glee.
Squeals of joy greeted the arrival of Tilly, her Labrador sized pony. Tor led her into the garden, her mane and tail woven with pink ribbons, and the children rushed over to pat her, wide eyed with excitement.
Tilly is normally as quiet as a lamb. She had spent the previous fortnight in a virtually bald paddock in order to reduce her rapidly expanding girth, and i was dismayed to note that her enforced starvation had adversely affected her temperament. She was possessed of a ravenous hunger, and was consequently more interested in consuming as much grass as possible, than being fussed over by a group of toddlers.
Observing the manic glint in her eye, the Mummies moved instinctively closer to their offspring. "It's alright. She's completely bombproof." i assured them.
Tilly flattened her ears at the outstretched hands and tried to walk underneath the table.
"Does it Hunt?" asked Maud eagerly, leaning forward in her chair, as Tilly scuttled sideways across the garden, swishing her tail angrily.
"Nice sort. I've always liked something with a bit of spirit." she remarked, sloshing the contents of a hip flask into her elderflower cordial.
I was in the kitchen taking the clingfilm off the plates of sandwiches, when I heard a blood curdling scream, and Tor rushed in.
"I need some ice - it's just trodden on Jonny's foot. And it bit my leg - little shit!" she said, pointing at the teeth marks on her upper thigh.
I ran out with a bag of frozen peas. My frantic apologies were drowned out by Jonny's howls of pain as his Mother pressed them onto his purple toes.
I looked grimly around for the pony. Maud was sitting clutching the lead rope. The demonic animal had walked round and round her, thus binding her legs with the rope and trussing her helplessly to the chair. She looked as though she were about to be dunked in the village pond. Unperturbed by her imprisonment, she took a blithe swig from her hip flask. Tilly flattened her ears and barged forwards. The chair lurched dangerously and teetered precariously on its back legs for a second before I rushed forward and unclipped the rope just in time to prevent Maud being dragged backwards across the garden.
"Reminds me of my old Hunter. Game little bugger." she said, rummaging for her cigarettes. Little Oscar stepped boldly forward proffering a carrot baton to the pony, and was plucked out of reach of darting teeth just in time.
"Get the bloody thing out of here before it kills someone!" muttered Tor as it glowered at the assembled toddlers and rolled its eyes.
"I'm trying." I hissed, crimson with shame as I tugged hopelessly on the lead rope.
"GO AWAY! GO AWAY!" screamed little Jonny, diving under the table in terror as i dragged the fiendish creature towards the gate.
The frosty faced Mummy's watched our shameful exit with reproachful eyes, whilst their frightened infants cowered behind them. Several of the were sobbing pitifully.
"I'm frightened Mummy! I want to go home!" wailed Olive, prompting a chorus of passionate agreement from the others.
"I'm so sorry." I squeaked. "She's normally lovely."
The Mummies looked on stony faced as the wretched animal knocked a serving platter off the table and proceeded to hoover up a mound of wholemeal penises, curling its lip in disgust when it encountered the marmite.
Jasper rushed out of the house wielding a broom and rammed it briskly up the back side a few times. This did the trick and she shot out of the garden like an exocet missile. I shut her in a stable and put my head in my hands. So much for a "fun" toddlers tea party. I had imagined the pony carrying a procession of infants around the garden, their cherubic faces alight with wonder, instead of which they had been menaced, trampled and bitten.
Tor met me on the driveway.
"I've given them all a glass of wine. I think they needed it. Jonny's mum asked for something stronger so i gave her a vodka and coke. Are you okay? You look a bit pale."
"I'm fine. " i replied with a brave smile. "What else can possibly go wrong?"
"You didn't know the pony was a Psycho. " she said kindly. "Come on , let's go and have a drink."
During our absence a few more friends had turned up and were chatting to the Mummies, unaware of the drama that had preceded their arrival.
I was relieved to note that the Mummies looked far more relaxed since the pony had been removed from the proceedings. Tor went round topping up the glasses, and Trevor, my old Spaniel, was enjoying the attentions of the children, who were gathered around him stroking his tummy, which is his favourite thing in the world. Bandit, Jasper's uncouth Spaniel, was busying about in search of food, tail wagging ten to the dozen as he grinned delightedly at everyone like a village idiot.
Just then, Will and Lara turned up with their dog Lola, a very pretty golden labrador bitch, who sashayed into the garden, eliciting a lustful gaze from Bandit, who stopped scavenging and strutted over to proposition her.
"Mummy, why is he licking her bum?" asked Daisy.
"Erm, they're making friends darling." said the Mummy, turning pink.
"Faint heart never won fair lady." Maud cackled, producing another hipflask.
"Get off her!" I shouted, dragging him away by the scruff of the neck as he attempted to mount her. He continued thrusting impotently at thin air as a dozen toddlers looked on with interest.
"What's that pink thing under his tummy Mummy?" asked three year old Iris.
"It's er....it's his lipstick darling."
"Duh! It's his willy stupid!" said five year old Frank in a scornful voice.
Iris glared at Frank. "Don't call my Mummy stupid." she said, poking him on the arm. Frank shook his head in disgust and walked off.
Iris looked up at her Mother beseechingly. "What's a willy Mummy?"
Mummy shot me a reproving look and I hurriedly shut the lecherous hound out of the garden, the second animal to be forcibly ejected on account of it's deplorable behaviour.
"Sorry!" I mumbled to the Mummys for the umpteenth time. If i ate much more humble pie i'd explode soon.
Next to arrive was Tom and Laura, with their dog Whiskey, who swaggered jauntily into the fray and made a bee line for Lola. Bandit thrust his face through the trellis and looked on furiously as Whiskey and Lola flirted audaciously with one another, right under his twitching nose. The sight of this young whippersnapper making advances on the lovely Lola, was too much for Bandit. There was a scrabbling noise as he appeared atop the garden fence, where he balanced for a second with a machiavellian grin, before launching himself on top of his rival with an enraged snarl. A dreadful fight ensued, as each male strove to assert his superiority over the other. The dogs howled and growled, teeth clashing and fur flying; toddlers screamed in terror while grown ups stumbled around idiotically screeching "STOP IT!" at the brawling pair. In the ensuing chaos, little Sam wet his pants with fright and eight new Sophie Conran glasses were knocked flying from the table and smashed to pieces on the patio.
Tor stopped the fight by smashing them over the head with a Ninky-Nonk train, temporarily dazing them and affording us valuable seconds in which to drag them away in opposite directions.
The stunned silence which followed was broken only by the whimpering sobs of the toddlers and the inane ramblings of Makka Pakka who had been propelled violently from the train and was lying face down in the grass, chanting "Makka Pakka Akka Wakka Mikka Makka Moo!"
"What's it saying?" demanded.
Trevor bustled over, grabbed Makka Pakka and trotted off round the side of the house looking pleased with himself, eliciting howls of rage from Billy, to whom the toys belonged. His sobs intensified when he discovered Iggle Piggles mutilated body in the train carriage - the force of the impact had decapitated him and snapped both legs off at the knee.
"I'm so sorry!" I said (again). I wanted to run away. Or be swallowed up by a hole in the ground.
"Thanks for a lovely party Jess. I'd better be making a move though." said Vanessa with a forced smile, as she prepared to leave. Realising that escape was imminent, the relief of the other mummys was almost palpable, as they hastily gathered up belongings, strapped traumatized infants into car seats and coaxed their terrified off-spring from the bushes.
With remarkably unfortunate timing, my friend Spike arrived as they were leaving. A highly eccentric and excitable character, he had decided to come to the evening party dressed as a Military Dictator; he marched into the garden wearing a fierce expression, and executed a series of military salutes at the assembled company who were all gawping at him with their mouths open.
"Good Evening!" he barked. "General Deviant at your service!" As he stamped his foot, the tassle on his fez quivered menacingly.
Several toddlers took one look at him and bolted back into the bushes.
Within five minutes, the garden was empty. Every guest had vanished at considerable speed down the driveway.
"I hope i didn't frighten them off. They left a bit suddenly." remarked Spike with a sinister smile.
Tor came round the corner frowning. "Tilly's broken out of the stable. "
The phone rang. "Hello?" I said wearily.
"Hello, it's Mrs Langford from next door. If you're wondering where your pony is, it's here terrorizing my caravanners."